- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009


Gates restores contract authority

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Wednesday restored the Air Force’s authority to select the winner of a $35 billion contract for aerial refueling tankers between Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Mr. Gates last summer stripped the service’s ability to award a contract in the wake of a Government Accountability Office report that found the Air Force failed to evaluate both proposals on the same merits.

Northrop, and its partner Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. N.V., beat out rival Boeing in February for the deal to replace 179 tankers. Boeing later successfully protested the award.

The Pentagon “cannot afford the kind of letdowns, parochial squabbles, and corporate food fights that have bedeviled this effort in the past,” Mr. Gates said, speaking at the Air Force Association trade show in National Harbor, Md.


China, India cloud global emissions deal

Obama administration climate envoy Todd Stern said Wednesday that the United States cannot insist that China and India agree to specific cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions as part of a new U.N. global climate treaty.

Mr. Stern, speaking at a forum held by the Atlantic magazine, said a deal with China hinges on a few key issues, but it is impossible to get an agreement from that country that would require it to meet emissions reduction targets similar to those being considered for the U.S. in Congress.

“We recognize in the nature of the politics of climate change that China is not going to do the exact same things that the U.S. will do,” he said.

The refusal by China and India to agree to major greenhouse gas cuts is a key barrier to completion in Congress of pending cap-and-trade legislation. Lawmakers of both parties say that large developing nations need to reduce their emissions before Congress puts the U.S. on a path to do the same.


Salazar to end in-kind royalty program

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday that he will terminate the controversial Royalty-in-Kind program that allows oil and gas drillers to pay federal royalties with gas and oil stocks rather than with cash.

The $6.6 billion program, run by the department’s Minerals Management Service, accounts for more than half of the royalties paid by oil and gas companies. It has been the subject of critical attention for its cozy relationship between program managers and oil and gas companies, and for failing to fully collect stocks owed by companies that drill on federal lands.

“It is a program that operates under contracts, and we have to honor the contracts that are in place,” Mr. Salazar told reporters after a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on a Democratic bill that would broadly reform federal oil and gas leasing and royalty programs.

Mr. Salazar said the Royalty-In-Kind program was “set up at a time when people thought the Interior Department could make more money by taking product instead of money,” but instead the program has caused problems and resulted in revenue losses to the government.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said Mr. Salazar should reconsider eliminating the program because changes could be made to improve it.

“Terminating this straightforward method of handling royalty payments runs the risk of raising administrative costs and adding additional layers of paperwork required to determine the value of oil and gas production,” Mr. Gerard said in a statement.


EPA to rewrite Bush-era smog rule

The Environmental Protection Agency is scrapping a George W. Bush-era rule that set stricter limits for smog levels but fell short of scientific recommendations.

In a brief filed Wednesday in a federal appeals court, the Justice Department said the EPA thinks the revision made by the Bush administration did not adhere to federal air pollution laws. The agency will propose new smog standards by December to protect health and the environment.

The Bush regulation, announced in March 2008, was the subject of much controversy.

While stronger than the previous rule, it wasn’t as tough as the government’s scientific advisers had recommended. Smog is a respiratory irritant that can aggravate asthma and has been linked to heart attacks.


FBI chief: Terrorist danger not imminent

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told a congressional panel that there was no imminent danger stemming from the case that led authorities to search New York City apartments earlier this week for explosives and suspected links to al Qaeda.

Mr. Mueller made the statement during testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, had asked the FBI chief to reassure New Yorkers and Americans that the case did not pose a ready danger.

The investigation centers on a Denver man who traveled to New York last week. No explosives were found in the New York searches.

Counterterrorism officials have warned police departments across the country to be on the lookout for evidence of homemade bombs after Monday’s raids on the apartments.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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